February 18, 2022
A D.C. federal judge on Friday rejected former President Donald Trump’s claim that he has “absolute immunity” from a trio of lawsuits seeking to hold him liable for inciting last year’s deadly U.S. Capitol attack, saying the evidence shows that he assembled and directed thousands of supporters to march to the Capitol.
U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta wrote in his 112-page opinion that Jan. 6, 2021, “was supposed to mark the peaceful transition of power” as Congress voted to certify Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential victory, yet Trump instructed supporters at a “Save America” rally near the White House that “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
This was “an idea he had come up with himself,” Judge Mehta ruled, siding with 11 Democratic lawmakers who sued, as well as two U.S. Capitol Police officers who battled with rioters and are seeking damages for physical injuries and racist abuse they suffered. The lawsuits alleged that the riot, which left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer, was a direct result of Trump and some of his allies’ actions.
The key argument in Trump’s bid to escape the suits is that the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1982 decision in Nixon v. Fitzgerald establishes that a president cannot be sued for official actions during his presidency. But Judge Mehta rejected this argument, saying that denying a president immunity “from civil damages is no small step” but the “alleged facts of this case are without precedent, and the court believes that its decision is consistent with the purposes behind such immunity.”
The judge added that while Trump’s campaign-style speech did touch on matters of public concern — his pledge to work on election laws in a second term — “the main thrust of the speech was not focused on policy or legislation” but to double down on his baseless claim that the election was fraudulent.
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Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC partner Joseph Sellers, an attorney for the lawmakers who brought claims under the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan Act, said the ruling is “a major victory for the rule of law, and demonstrates just how important the courts are for ensuring accountability.”
“This decision exhibits the finest tradition of our legal system — evaluating cases on their merits, not politics. We will continue to pursue justice through the courts and ensure accountability for this attack on our democracy,” Sellers added.